Calif. Standards Board Approves Heat Illness Changes

By Roy Maurer Mar 2, 2015
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The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board approved proposed changes to the state’s heat illness prevention standard and requested a spring 2015 effective start date, giving employers just weeks to revise their heat illness programs and train employees in the changes.

The amendments specify water and shade requirements, and add new language on emergency response procedures, acclimation and training.

The heat illness prevention standard applies to all outdoor places of employment, but primarily impacts the agriculture, construction, landscaping, oil and gas extraction, and transportation industries.

The amended requirements for employers include the following:

*Water provided must be “fresh, pure, suitably cool,” free of charge and located as close as practicable to where employees are working, with exceptions when employers can demonstrate infeasibility. Previously, employers were only charged with providing access to potable drinking water that was “clean.” Where drinking water is not continuously supplied, it shall be provided in “sufficient quantity” at the beginning of the work shift to provide one quart per employee per hour, lasting the entire shift.

*Shade must now be provided when the temperature reaches 80 degrees, instead of the previous 85 degrees, and accommodate all employees on recovery periods, rest periods and meal periods, instead of the previous stipulation of accommodating 25 percent of employees working outside. The shaded area must be located as close as practicable to where employees are working.

*The cool-down rest period requirement has been expanded to include the word “preventative.” It also requires employers to monitor workers who ask for a cool-down rest for symptoms of heat illness. If an employee exhibits signs or reports symptoms of heat illness during a cool-down rest period, the employer shall provide appropriate first aid or emergency response, the regulation stipulates. Employers are prohibited from ordering employees to work until signs or symptoms of heat illness have abated.

*High-heat procedures remain triggered at 95 degrees. During high heat, employees must be effectively observed and monitored by the employer; this includes the use of a mandatory buddy system and regular communication with supervisors. The amendments require pre-shift meetings that review high-heat procedures, encourage employees to drink plenty of water and remind employees of their right to take a cool-down rest break when needed. Agriculture workers must be provided with a minimum 10-minute cool-down period every two hours.

*New emergency response procedures include implementing effective communication with workers, having an effective first aid response and having a policy of contacting emergency responders to help stricken workers.

*New acclimation procedures include closely observing all employees during a heat wave—defined as at least 80 degrees, or anytime the temperature is 10 degrees higher than the average high daily temperature in the preceding five days—and closely observing new workers for their first two weeks on the job.

*The revised regulation now specifically requires employers to train employees in the employer’s responsibility to provide water, shade, cool-down rests and access to first aid; as well as workers’ rights under the standard, first aid and emergency response procedures, and acclimatization concepts and methods.

*The revisions enhance the previous heat illness prevention plan requirements. Employers must establish, implement, and maintain an effective heat illness prevention plan in English and in any language understood by the majority of employees. The plan must be made available to employees at the worksite and also to state agency representatives upon request. An employer’s heat illness prevention plan may be included as part of an illness and injury prevention program but must specifically include the heat illness prevention procedures discussed above.

“The voluminous changes to the heat regulation are sure to create a large wave of citations this spring and summer,” said Alka Ramchandani, an associate attorney in the San Francisco office of law firm Jackson Lewis. She offered the following compliance tips for employers:

  • Review current heat illness and prevention plans and amend them to reflect the new requirements, including the new water requirements, shade requirements, preventative cool-down rest periods, high heat procedures, acclimation, and training policies and procedures.
  • Review employee handbooks and make sure they are consistent with the new regulations.
  • Review or create new policies and procedures for monitoring employees taking cool-down rest periods.
  • Review or create new plans to monitor employees in high-heat conditions.
  • Review emergency preparedness plans and make sure there is a designated individual who is responsible for calling for emergency services when needed.
  • Closely monitor temperature changes to ensure compliance with the amended acclimatization requirements.
  • Conduct site inspections at each California facility to ensure that shade and water is being provided as close as practicable to the areas employees are working.
  • Train employees and supervisors on the revised heat illness plan and procedures, cool-down rest breaks, and monitoring procedures. Retrain employees on how to prevent heat illness.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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